As a life coach, I've counseled countless people contemplating a midlife change of direction. Let me tell you about three remarkable people I’ve worked with in the past couple of years:
Adam spent his career climbing the corporate ladder as a health care executive. As he approached 60, he wanted to retire from his full-time job but still needed to earn an income. Adam wondered: What could the next stage of his life look like, and what would make him feel fulfilled?
After a lucrative career as a powerbroker in the investment business, Hilary was in her 50s and single. She was determined to leave behind the cold East Coast winters and find a path more in sync with her values. She also craved an outdoor lifestyle.
Amy, a divorced insurance professional, raised two sons as a single mom then became the primary caregiver for her mother. Like Adam, she needed to keep earning a living, but Amy felt ready to retire from a job that no longer captivated her. She also felt trapped by her caregiving responsibilities, which were compounded by her mother's resistance to help from anyone else.
Chances are you can relate to at least one of these three stories. Vibrant, educated men and women, like Adam, Hilary and Amy, want to make the transition from one stage of life to the next in a way that no generation has before. To them, the word “retirement” connotes withdrawal and the beginning of the end.
That's why they embraced what I call “protirement,” the stage of life when work takes on a new meaning and no longer serves as your primary anchor.
What 'Protirement' Is All About
“Protirees” choose not to fade into retirement. Many still earn an income; they frequently rely on those dollars to maintain and perhaps even enhance their lifestyles. They're enjoying some of the best years of their lives by traveling, starting new business ventures, volunteering, devoting time to hobbies, developing new relationships, reinvigorating old ones and allowing their creative selves to emerge.
So how can you make the most of your protirement years?
First, don't expect to know exactly what protirement will look like for you. The beauty of this stage of life is the opportunity to experiment and test options. Maybe you want to get into the best physical shape of your life or fly to Africa and volunteer with the Peace Corps the way you dreamed of doing in your 20s. Maybe you’d simply like to shift gears from your current profession to work in one that’s less lucrative but more meaningful to you.
In my coaching practice, I’ve found that dipping a toe in the water and trying out a new activity before leaving a longtime job helps people determine how best to shape their protirements. The investment you make thinking through these choices before retiring will pay dividends in your protirement.
How to Prepare for Protirement
To enjoy a rewarding protirement, follow these six pointers:
Look to your dreams for direction. Did you always want to teach or volunteer your services to make the world a better place? Think about the type of work that would pump you up, then consider the skills you’d need to enter that field. It’s never too late to shift careers.
Give your options a reality check. Once you’ve identified a dream job, turn your focus to practicality. Find out if there are potential positions where you plan to live in retirement. Then start networking to build relationships in that field.
Live the maxim: Less is more.
Simplify your life now, so you’ll be able to focus on the things that will bring you the most joy in retirement. Take a hard look at possessions, activities and relationships. If it energizes you, keep it; if not, release it. Excellent ways to trim back include downsizing a home and spending less time with people who always leave you feeling depleted.
Live within your means. Create a workable retirement budget that includes travel, leisure activities and health care costs, so you can be fiscally responsible by day and sleep better at night.
Stay fit. Many people assume that physical fitness inevitably declines with age. But taking time to exercise and eat well is even more important as we get older. Not only will a regular exercise routine save you money by lowering your health care expenses, it will also serve as the fuel in your proverbial gas tank, giving you the stamina to fully engage in your protirement years.
Bolster your brain health. Engage in activities that challenge your mind, like learning a new language or taking up painting, and you’ll find yourself having fewer complaints about so-called senior moments.
Wondering what Adam, Hilary and Amy came up with for their protirements?
Adam became executive director of a nonprofit serving children. The new job has given him a greater sense of meaning and more time for bicycling, yoga and travel with his wife.
Hilary moved to San Diego, where she now runs a financial literacy program.
Amy downsized her house, found in-home care for her mother, and started swing dancing and Zumba classes.
All three tell me they relish life more each and every day.
By Barbara Waxman
Barbara Waxman, MS, MPA, ACC, is the founder and president of the Odyssey Group, an executive and life coaching company for adults "midlife and better." She is the editor of How to Love Your Retirement and author of the forthcoming book, Middlescence.
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